|Latest water crisis bedevils College
Dye admits slow reponse, cites lack of warning
By Gavin Platt
The main water line feeding the city of Oberlin ruptured on Sunday, leaving
the community with a potentially contaminated water supply. The town enacted a boiling advisory,
but by the following afternoon, news of the water emergency had only begun to creep across campus.
In the early hours, warning signs were scarce on dorm entrances and water fountains,
and advisory e-mail were only forwarded to select students. Many dorms did not receive supplies
of bottled water until Monday night.
With this instance, there may have been a bump in the road, Vice
President of College Relations Al Moran said.
Late Sunday morning, the Oberlin Water Treatment Facility alerted Safety and
Security of the water emergency. But the Office of College Relations, which coordinates the Colleges
emergency efforts, didnt get word of the situation until Monday.
Many students were alarmed to find out that water they had been drinking might
have been contaminated.
I had been drinking the water all Sunday, one sophomore complained.
I didnt find out until morning when I noticed a sign on the outside door.
Academic buildings remained dry during the extent of the water advisory period.
Because the water disruption coincided with a weekend and a holiday communication
did not flow as quickly as it might have during a regular workday.
In retrospect, I wish it wouldnt have been Easter Sunday,
ResLife director Kim LaFond said.
Oberlins water superintendent, Bill Wossilek, said there have been few
water emergencies in recent years.
Sometimes lines break, and thats just what happened here,
College President Nancy Dye said that she did not know about the water situation
until early Monday morning. I went for my coffee, and my secretary told me, Its
all right, I boiled the water, Dye recalled.
The College was not well-prepared, Dye said. We usually get
robust notification from the city but we didnt get that this time.
We have protocol for emergencies that are very well articulated,
she added. This was surprising.
I certainly think the whole event gives us a reason to review the communication
process, Moran added.
Water main breaks are not uncommon at Oberlin, and residents of South Campus
residence halls were without clean water for days in one occasion. In previous cases, however,
the College moved more quickly to publicize the news.
There is a place to post concerns about the campus safety and security
in the On-Campus News section of Oberlin Online. Some feel that this space should be moved to a
more conspicuous location on the home page. Others said that a mass e-mail notification system
might improve communication during emergencies in the future.
College officials intend to examine the shortcomings of the current emergency
system during an upcoming post mortem meeting.
We need to talk with Security and Facilities to re-examine and re-evaluate
these situations as they occur, and maybe give some items greater priority, Moran said. Its
a learning process for all of us.